To the Wayward Spouse
As the guilty party, you are the cause for the disastrous state your relationship has come to, but that does not mean you are powerless to make things better. How much better depends a great deal on the strength of your previous bond as a couple and the strength of character of both parties, especially you.
In this article, you will find encouragement, hope, and practical suggestions for healing and rebuilding a stronger and happier relationship.
Handle with care
Most wayward spouses wonder at some point, perhaps often, whether to tell or not to tell. All the experts agree that those unfaithful partners who bite the bullet and voluntarily tell their spouses about the affair are much more likely to come out of the experience with their present marriage or committed relationship intact. This is not because the wounded party is less likely to be heartbroken by the news of the affair, but because it will be easier to trust the betrayer, eventually, if they volunteered the information.
Those who discover the unthinkable truth about infidelity through the whispers of gossip, the well-meaning divulgences of a friend, or in some accidental fashion will inevitably remain hurt longer than those who were told outright by their errant partners. In the future, it will also be easier for the wounded party to trust the betrayer if the truth about the affair came out voluntarily.
After all, when the painful truth comes to light without the betrayer, the wounded one may rightfully wonder whether the unfaithful one would ever have been honest... or ever will be honest again. So to avoid the incalculable damage that will ensue when trust is shattered by some other means than your own disclosure to your spouse, honesty is truly the only choice.
Do's and don'ts
Think it out in advance. Whatever you do, you do not want to make things worse by the way you handle the disclosure. Be prepared to be assaulted by any number of reactions, from a cold, indifferent withdrawal to a berserk, prolonged outburst. Your spouse is entitled to a reaction, though it is, of course, your responsibility to protect yourself from violence, should that appear possible.
Experts say that the most successful disclosures of infidelity-the ones that have the happiest endings-have several things in common, all revolving around the attitude of the betrayer. A self-effacing approach is universally considered the best. Admit your wrongdoing wholeheartedly, in simple, sincere terms. Show your heartbroken partner that you are truly sorry by being vulnerable and without defenses. Lashing out with retaliatory responses to their understandable hostility will not protect you, and will not help your partner perceive you as worthy of trust in the future.
Make the promise to completely cut off the affair, and then follow through. Be a better watchdog over yourself and your foibles than your spouse could ever be. There will never be a healing for you or your committed relationship if you don't take this most important step and honor it with your whole being and intent.
Avoid the blame game
No matter what reasons or excuses your tortured brain may come up with for betraying the person to whom you originally committed yourself and your love, marriage counselors agree that the initial disclosure of the infidelity is not the time to address them.
Likewise, evasive answers and threats to leave the marriage are not helpful, and are more than likely to compound the problem, possibly to the point of no return. Even if you believe the marriage is over and you are irredeemably in love with the "other" person, it is better by far to deal with the disclosure of infidelity without presenting the possibility of divorce at the same time.
When all is said and done, love is an ephemeral thing, as subject to the whims of time and change as the lives of the humans who find themselves caught up in its often transient wonder.
It's not your turn
This is not the time to burden your spouse with your chaotic feelings. Most affairs occur as a result of an attraction that is not only physical, but emotional as well. This can be interpreted as love, and when the unfaithful one decides to cut off the affair, it can be extremely painful for them. Experts council caution at this point, though. It may be tempting to turn to your spouse as one who might be able to comfort you in this dark hour, but it's not your place, as the guilty party, to expect such relief.
Put off your own healing for a more appropriate time. Gather your integrity, tenderness, concern, and courage to help heal your wounded partner and your marriage instead.
What if I'm Found Out?
When your infidelity comes to light without your voluntary disclosure, a constellation of difficult problems is created. Perhaps your spouse was told by a family member or friend, or actually saw you with your illicit lover. This is a pivotal moment in time for your relationship with your spouse and for you both as individuals. What you do in this moment may, in a single act, change the course of your life, your spouse's life, your lover's life, and the life of your relationship.
Counselors say that those who indicate a sincere and profound remorse when they are confronted with such a discovery are much more likely to weather the inevitable storm to come better than those who take a defensive position. Here are some courses of action you may want to commit to memory, in case you're still in the midst of an affair, and haven't told your spouse the truth yet:
The honorable way to act if your infidelity is discovered:
1. Tell the truth. If you think you might want to save your marriage, you will stop lying at the moment your betrayal is discovered, and refrain from any dissembling or evasive tactics in the future. It would be wise to take this opportunity to tell yourself the truth as well, about the amount of pain you are inflicting on your spouse and family, and the enormous damage it will probably cause.
2. Show your partner your sincere remorse. Now is the moment of discovery you've been trying so hard to avoid. Rather than attempting to dance around it, confront it with your spouse in a clean, transparent fashion. The wounded party may very well be unresponsive to such humility at the moment of discovery, but it will count for something later, after the smoke clears and the hard work of rebuilding trust has begun.
3. No accusations, no excuses. There may be reasons you consider legitimate for having an extramarital affair. Don't bring them up now, or even in the near future. Later, perhaps in the office of a good marriage counselor, you may carefully broach the subject. But if you have any inclination toward saving your marriage or committed relationship, now is not the time.
4. Accept the blame. Accusing your illicit lover of things like "making" you do it is simply laughable, though nobody will be laughing at this point. Even if you felt cornered, you still had the choice. Likewise, citing loneliness or ill-treatment from your spouse as your reason for having an affair is also unacceptable, since there are other ways to address those problems.
5. Drop all pretense and manipulations. This suggestion is aimed specifically at gamey behavior people often drag into play when they feel threatened. The usual ploys couples often find helpful during day-to-day living, such as gift-giving or seductive behavior, will only be met with more horror from the one betrayed, and increase their distrust long into the future.
6. Don't bring up divorce... unless you're willing to go there. Whether you have children or not, divorce is never a walk in the park. For most committed couples, the experience is exactly the same, psychologically, as going through the death of the loved one. If you are not completely positive that you want a divorce, the best policy is to wait until you've talked the possibility through with a professional counselor, in order to get help in making the best decision you can. REMEMBER: When in doubt, leave it out.
7. Say goodbye to your secret lover-once. The best way to approach this painful but ever-so-necessary step is with the full knowledge of your spouse. A meeting-whether above-board or secret-is obviously not allowed. Get your spouse's permission to call and do the deed in the presence of your spouse. If your affair partner insists on trying to contact you, arrange your life so that you are not the one who deals personally with this problem.
8. Promise it's over, and mean it. If you want to try to heal your marriage after this devastating obstacle, you must stop seeing your lover and break off communications entirely, once you've broken the news. This means no calls, no emails, no texts, and no covert messages through third parties or otherwise. No more. This is the rule, tried and true, and it applies to colleagues and friends turned lovers alike. The fallout from such a circumstance might include changing your job, changing your phone number, changing your children's schools, changing your church, not attending family gatherings, or even moving. If you want your marriage back, you'll do whatever it takes to totally separate yourself from your affair partner and give all your energy, attention, and caring back to your committed relationship.
How to Say Goodbye to an Affair Partner
Get your mind set first. Decide that the affair is truly over, and then relay that information to your heart, before you ever make the farewell call. Include the following items in your call:
a. Tell the affair partner you've decided to stop, and that the affair is now over
b. Tell the affair partner you love your spouse
c. Admit that what you did with the affair partner was hurtful and wrong
d. Ask the affair partner not to contact you in any way again
Taking the High Road
In any successful reconstruction of a relationship torn apart by infidelity, the obligation for showing good will and kindness always falls on the betrayer. This does not mean, however, that the unfaithful party must lose themselves in self-flagellation and shame. That kind of obsequious acting out is almost always fraught with more dysfunction and creates more problems than it solves.
What it does mean is that the betrayer sets aside most of his or her own needs and goals in favor of the greater good of the marriage and family unit. Listening and talking to your spouse with respect is essential, for example, even if they lash out in verbal anger at times, out of pain and confusion.
Boundaries in reconstruction
Accepting the culpability for your damaged relationship can be tricky. You're hurting too, after all, and your world is now upside-down, just like your partner's. Giving yourself over to the rebuilding process is, of course, of paramount importance, at least until the danger of the total destruction of your marriage has past. But clinical experts warn against giving too much of yourself away in a misplaced effort to fix everything and atone for sins, real or imagined.
Betrayers frequently feel that they must divulge every thought and emotion they have, in order to regain the trust of the partner they betrayed. This is a codependent mechanism that can actually cause deep damage, during the rebuilding of the relationship, and later on.
Simply put, counselors say that, although the betrayer is obligated to be the "Good Guy," the tendency to let go of all psychic boundaries and be completely vulnerable puts more pressure, not less, on the wounded party. In extreme cases, they end up taking care of the betrayer, in the form of giving them the attention they require to be absolved. Dealing with their own pain becomes sidetracked, and the betrayer becomes the center of attention, once again.
A gracious balance of self-respect for all parties and an understanding of the reasons for the affair are more helpful, in the short and long run, than misplaced vulnerability or submission.
Make up your Mind... and Surrender
For the marriage to recover, your commitment to it must be whole-hearted. In the beginning, especially if your infidelity was accidentally discovered rather than disclosed by you voluntarily, you, the unfaithful one, may still feel bonded in passion and caring for your affair partner. This will gradually dissipate, as you consciously direct your attention toward healing your marriage and helping the one you wounded to find his or her path out of the maze of chaotic feelings and pain.
Once you've worked your way through your own fog to the decision that you do, indeed, want to recommit to your marriage, prepare yourself for the possibility of a long period of perdition. Experts say that the length of the reconstruction period typically lasts at least six months, and often lasts more than one year.
One of the best ways to look at the process of rebuilding is to think of it as good practice in becoming a better person. As human beings, we all tend to wander through the world in habitual ways of acting and reacting that are more or less unconscious. When a betrayer sincerely wants to heal a broken relationship and comfort a broken-hearted spouse, an attitude of wakeful awareness is the most helpful for everyone involved. Conscious people make conscious choices, which are inevitably better all around.
The real balancing act
Maybe your relationship had been the kind where one party leaned heavily on the other during the course of their walk through life. Maybe both partners tended to lean against the other, a precarious balancing act indeed. Or possibly, you had been going down the road without even holding hands, like friendly roommates, or even acquaintances who just happened to find themselves on the same journey. It's more than likely that one of these couples' stances accurately describes your relationship before the affair. It's unlikely that the affair would have happened otherwise.
The best possible way for a couple to walk down life's road together is holding hands, standing straight, and not leaning on the other. That way, when one of the partners trips, the other won't fall, but will instead be instantly available to help them regain their balance. Their help will come without thinking, intuitively correcting the balance, not only of the one who falters, but also of the couple, simultaneously.
When we surrender control over the other person in a committed relationship, we have a chance-a good one-of learning to travel through the maze of life side-by-side in this balanced, healthy way. We can only control or change ourselves, not the other person. And it's the realization of this that allows us to learn respect and acceptance for another and, eventually, come to a place of deep trust that will help keep both parties balanced in times of trouble for the rest of their lives together.
How to Help Your Wounded Partner and Rebuild a Broken Relationship
Experts on your present journey advocate these tips to keep in mind throughout the process:
a. Observe your emotions, rather than acting on them
b. Observe the emotions of the partner you betrayed, rather than reacting to them
c. Be conscious of your knee-jerk reactions and decide whether they are helpful or not
d. Be generous with your kindness
e. Take time each morning and evening to evaluate your progress
f. Reaffirm your intentions to heal the relationship with your spouse frequently
g. Open the way to honest communications, without pressing
h. Take care of yourself, as well as your wounded partner
i. Allow your partner the space he or she needs to heal
j. Consider working with a professional marriage counselor during the rebuilding experience
This is true balance, true wisdom, and true authenticity, manifested in the synergistic entity of an awakened, mature, loving couple.